Written and directed by Todd Fields
“Ah, yes, classical music enthusiasts, who hasn’t wanted to unseat those stuck-up snobs from their high horses?” is a question not many think to themselves, yet here we are with Todd Field’s enigmatic story about the reign and calamity of Lynda Tár, a fictional and world-famous composer and conductor.
In the guise of Cate Blanchett, Tár is an icon of the cultural elite. The film opens with a breathless introduction listing her important appointments to the orchestras of the western world, with accolades, praise and eloquent idolization emanating out across a sea of assembled faces at a Q&A in New York City. A long scene follows where Tár holds forth about classical music, its import and philosophies. A follow-up sees her lecture acolytes at a Julliard class, and still another sees her undress a rival composer at a lunch, toying with him as he squirms in part resentment, part adulation.
She’s the centerfold of the New Yorker, able to name drop René Redzepi and not have the joke go over a lead balloon, and a messiah of the intelligentsia. Power does things to a person, and being important has certainly done a few things to Lynda. She’s arrogant, manipulative and when mysterious messages start appearing and a dark figure from her past reaches out, the dark side of the medal looks poised to flip.
Beyond the esoteric subject matter, Todd Fields has put together a peculiar film. Ostensibly a simple and fairly classic narrative of power, #MeToo, passion and ambition, Tár fuses elements of mystery, ghost story, and domestic drama into its story with varying success. Compelling on their own, these elements don’t merge all that seamlessly with the whole. It’s similar to having a banjo play your baseline. It stands out, but it does leave you wondering why at the end, seeing the loose threads still hang off the finished symphony. See that mixed metaphor? Watching Tár is like that.
From a technical perspective, however, it’s still a master class. Field’s script is a river to start, with smart soliloquy-like passages running freely as Tár orates to any and all, but as she becomes more and more scrutinized, so does the flow of words dry up, getting terser and terser until silence settles in. Fields’ construction is terrific, and despite the elements that don’t jive, Tár will move you along with grace over its considerable runtime.
At the top of it all is Cate Blanchett, who’s already established as one of her generation’s finest, and perhaps doesn’t need more praised heaped on her (relatable to the character she plays in that regard), but here goes anyway: she’s perfect in Tár, and a linchpin for the film as a whole.
Posing as a perfect blend of assured arrogance, she emanates an aloofness only found in those who now believe themselves to belong to a different atmosphere than the rest of us. She’s a monolith to start, awe-inspiring to behold, but it’s when the foundations crumble that her performance becomes a must-watch. Both brash and fragile, it’s like watching the Statue of Liberty struggle with her robe, clutching at the sliding garment while still trying to hold the torch aloft.
In short, it’s a showcase for an actress that already lives on a well-earned pedestal.
Tár strives to hit many notes, and while the trombone sometimes decides it belongs among the strings and no one cares to explain why, the collective presentation by Fields and co. is undeniably magnetic, in large part due to a central performance that belongs in the pantheon of Blanchett’s greatest.